Sad Puppies, Gate Keeping, And We DID Build this
I shouldn’t be writing this right now. I had planned on doing a blast from the past. I am on deadline, trying not to wreck my publisher’s schedule because my idiotic body decided it was a good idea to collapse in the shower over a month ago and precipitate me into a fun happy time of doctors and tests.
The next test up involves drawing spinal fluid, which MIGHT give me a two week headache. Which means two overdue books and one that’s not overdue but is due need to be done by the time of the test. I’ve found interrupting books in the middle makes them almost impossible to finish, so now that we’re done with moves I’d like not to interrupt books.
Which is another reason I shouldn’t be writing this: I’m in the very final part of the book, the time when everything falls in place and comes tumbling down. I call it “the ahah moment”and anything like, you know, writing a chunk of non-fiction in the morning runs the risk of killing the mood. Sure, I can finish it with paint by the numbers, but it will take longer and not be as good. When painting by the numbers you miss little things. Most of all you miss opportunities, as the moment when everything comes together in your mind never happens. NO, it’s not a perfect method, but it’s the one I have.
So why am I doing this?
Yesterday when I woke up I decided I wasn’t going to go to Facebook. But I had an email telling me I’d missed a link at instapundit. (It’s something Vivaldi seems to do. I put the link in and when I press schedule, it loses it. I normally notice, but the display was being funky, so I missed three links in one night, which is a record even for me.)
One of the links I missed came from a secret group on Facebook. I belong to about a dozen of them, and it’s none of your business. Most of them are science or neat geek stuff. A few are politics. This link was at that edge, that it could have been in any of the groups. So I went looking. And in one of my normal hangouts I found someone had echoed his post, which was something like “It’s time to make a list for Sad Puppies 5”.
I don’t know how much of this is intentional, and how much was just the poster being stupid, in the sense that his blog posts are normally so scattered you have to read tea leaves to find out what he’s saying. I have to assume he didn’t know the impression he was giving, or else he doesn’t know me very well, after being with me in various places on line for several years.
On the other hand, this same person had approached me, multiple times by proxy and in person, being very ah, delicate, I’m sure he thought, and asking me if I wanted to share the burden of Sad Puppies, or perhaps off load it completely to him. The fact he even thought this was appropriate as well as his tendency to blog posts his own mother couldn’t interpret is the reason he would be the very worst person for it.
I don’t talk about it, normally, but I berserk. Berserking is fine, if I’m in a place I can break things and not kill anyone. This is not often the case. Most of the time I know I’m about to berserk because the immediate “you can’t do this here” kicks in. Berserking isn’t an awesome gift, unless you live in the sort of primitive violent society where it serves to make people afraid to attack you. It might have been useful once or twice in the late seventies when chappies with machine guns thought they owned the world I lived in. Most of the time it’s an infernal nuisance, and you learn really early to control it before you find yourself holding a desk over the teacher who was mocking you crying and shaking.
Crying and shaking is the result of trying to control it. And it feels like hell. So usually I deal with my own emotions in such a way whatever the hell trigger that activates “berserker” doesn’t get pushed.
When I saw that post I went from zero to berserker in no time flat, and while shaking and crying, penned the most scathing answer I’ve ever even anyone. The core of it, which I’ll expound on later is: Leading Sad Puppies won’t help your career. (It might not hurt it, either, but it won’t help it.)
But then an amazing thing happened. Yeah, you won’t believe this amazing thing that happened.
Which is why I’m writing this.
Even before I got to that post, and later in the other post that made me almost berserk again (I don’t think I’ve done this twice in one day since my teens) a friend had commented on how he gave the wrong impression and he should stop it already. Later on there were also posts on a bizarre theme, one of which (the comments) is what caused the second berserk attack.
The theme was like this: Sad Puppies said they were against gate keepers, but now they’re trying to be gatekeepers.
There are so many missteps in that statement it’s hard to unpack. First of all, no, Sad Puppies wasn’t against gatekeepers. Sad Puppies was against the secret maneuvering that went on behind the awards. (BTW it was never really a secret. When I was coming in, my mentors told me it was all log rolling and I had to roll the logs.) And which people denied until they stopped denying it, in favor of shrieking at us to get off their lawns, and making up horrible lies about us. (Unless, of course, you believe I’m a Mormon male.)
Second, in what way were we trying to be gatekeepers when we told an unauthorized person to stop pretending he was leading SP 5?
We were as much gatekeepers as, say, Baen would be when it told you you couldn’t call your indie publisher Baen Books For Real. It might or might not violate a trademark (fairly sure it would) but more than that it’s false advertising and it violates the right of people to what they have built.
Sad Puppies was started by Larry, true, and he lent it much of its gravity, but he proved what he wanted to prove with SP2: that is, that it had become a log-rolling award. (I’m still astonished that most people apparently didn’t know that.)
I was supposed to pick it up next, but I was ill and Brad did. All the same, I dragged myself from bed, after surgery, because I and Kate and Amanda had been in it as much as Brad after SP1, and we could help defend the guys. SP ate most of 2015 for me, the part that wasn’t devoted to scraping floors and painting walls. (And keep in mind that “this won’t help your career.” It really won’t.)
It still ate some of 2016, event though Kate took it, because I’m far more interesting to attack and attempt to discredit. And 2016 was the year of four moves and one international trip.
To the extent that SP is a recognizable thing beyond the fake news of us being racist, sexist and homophobic, it is so because of my work. And Amanda’s, and Kate’s.
For someone to say “I’m making the SP5 list” who has had no contact with us beyond writing pseudo-supportive fiction in which he willfully confused Sad and Rabid Puppies is …. astonishing.
And it is more astonishing that a vast number of libertarians apparently believe property rights don’t apply to a movement you helped start, and that it’s censorship when we try to say some Johnny come lately can’t just pretend he’s the leader this year and make it stick.
Seriously. You believe that everything non tangible is free for the taking? Go for it. Let other people put their names on your books and sell them! Have the courage of your convictions.
While I’m a big supporter of indie and of bypassing gatekeepers, I don’t think I’ve ever said you should have the right to pretend you’re Baen or Tor, or Bantam.
Sure, you don’t need to go through them. Do your own thing.
This problem would never even have arisen if this eager beaver had called his post “My list for the Hugos.” (For one, SP is moving away from the Hugos — which is why it’s not a federal emergency that I haven’t the site up yet, but I should have something up by Saturday — and yeah, you can disagree with that approach and want to focus on the Hugos like a laser. Why you’d want to do that when they’re writing the vote-rigging into the bylaws and have abundantly proved no one not of the clique is welcome is beyond me, but hey, I’m not the boss of you. You want to continue focusing on the Hugos, you start your own movement. It’s a free country. Everyone who has ever run the SP (except Larry whose only answer is “I’m retired”) agrees with the broadening and “unfocusing from the Hugos” view. BTW, even if you want the Hugos, what I plan to do which a monthly recommendation list, will allow you to warm up for 2018 early on.) Or he could have called “Neat books I think you should nominate for awards.”
Of course no one cares what he nominates or not, or what he likes or not. I think you can count his following without having to remove his shoes, which is why it was so important for him to appropriate a name that he thinks gives him gravitas.
And that he’s not allowed to do. Saying “you can’t take what’s mine, and I helped build” is not gatekeeping. It is, last I checked, anti-communism. And if you say — the other side does — that’s what we were trying to do in going for the Hugos: fair enough, except that it wasn’t supposed to belong to any clique. It was supposed to be the best in SF chosen by ALL the fans. Now it’s clear it’s the award of a clique, we don’t care about it, and they can keep it with our blessing.
But at the same time we’re going to use what remains of the SP movement to create more word of mouth for good books (including indies, because those tend to have more trouble finding an audience.) And we’re going to give you material to nominate and vote for the awards you care about. So they don’t go the way of the Hugo through sheer apathy.
And now if you excuse me, I’m 20k words behind where I should be with this book, and I’m tired of defending what I built from idiots, but let me add that I’m sure this doomed little sycophant thought that if he could only seize leadership of SP he’d become as big as Larry. Why, we couldn’t ignore him.
Yes, we could. Larry was Larry before the Puppies. The reason he’s retired is because the leading of the Puppies (twice) cost him hours he could have devoted to his work. He could weather that, because it just slowed him a little. Brad and I, though, have paid for this with a serious slow down in our career. So has Kate, who is only now writing again. And in this field, as Brad said in his last post, indie or trad, the best measure of how well you’ll do is how much you write.
Years ago, when I was breaking in, my mentors told me not to run for SFWA presidency, ever. Because unless you’re one of the darlings who can make it on one book a year, you’re going to regret it. It will eat your life. And if it happens at a certain time it might stop your writing long enough to kill your career.
I’ve found that the Puppies is the same thing. I’m doing it only because I’ve figured out a way to more or less automate it; because I’ll have a lot of support; and because I owe it to the two that took the bullet for me these last two years.
It is not a picnic, though, it is not a publicity coup, and in the end it hurts your writing, which hurts your career.
And what matters at the bottom is your writing. If your writing isn’t selling, leading the Puppies won’t fix it. It will in fact make you enemies in the field, including people who want to ingratiate themselves with the gatekeepers and the elites. I’m fairly sure a stupid hit to my career I suffered last year was a consequence of vocally supporting Larry and Brad.
I’m taking this movement in for a landing and somewhere useful, into a resource that will help fans of the work — not of cons and the right circuits — know what other people are enjoying. This will hopefully in the future be helpful for the genre and make it healthier, which will distantly benefit me.
But in the short term there is no benefit. Only trying to do three things at once, and having idiots nip at my heels for being a “gatekeeper.”
Now I’m going to go finish my d*mn book. Because that’s what matters.